Dangerous Liaisons

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Clark was not just an obvious inspiration for Momin, he's been included as the only genuinely famous artist in the show. Among the Clark pieces in Will Boys Be Boys? is a 1980s montage called "Untitled (Cory Haim)," in which the artist appropriated three images of '80s heartthrob Haim found in the pages of magazines aimed at teenage girls.

Another Clark is "Dice 42nd Street," also done in the '80s, which depicts a partly nude male prostitute in a black-and-white shot. Interestingly, "Dice" is the only optional piece in the show, by which I mean that museums on the tour could elect to leave it out. It's hardly a surprise to find Payton including it on the Denver stop because she staunchly opposes censorship of any kind. On the other hand, it's not hard to understand why Momin made the Clark optional: The subject of the photo is not only gay, but his semi-erect, uncircumcised penis hangs out for all to see. That could certainly cause trouble for some host institutions, especially in the Bible Belt.

Other than an impromptu performance by a young man who conspicuously fondled what is euphemistically called "himself" as he went through the show, the Clark photo is the only piece that refers to the penis even obliquely. Penises, like sports, are something that teenage boys pay a lot of attention to, and you'd expect to see more of them in a show like this.

The Clarks are not the only homoerotic pieces in the exhibit. Dean Sameshima's five photos from 1998-'99, which were rephoto-graphed magazine fashion spreads, also fill that same bill. The heads of the boys have been cropped out, and they're partly nude above the waist, which makes the photos look more like porn than fashion. But it's of the soft-core type: All the vital parts are covered up by baggy pants.

Like penises, sports, as I noted above, are barely seen, but they haven't been completely banished from the show. There are four portraits of high school jocks by New York photographer Collier Schorr. These photos are exquisite; however, they do not show the boys in moments of physical prowess, but rather as vulnerable and maybe even helpless. The boys pictured are exhausted after their matches, or, in the case of 1998's "Bloody Nose," injured; it depicts a good-looking kid with blood coming out of his nose. Another rare sports-related piece is Anthony Goicolea's computer-altered swimming scene from 2001, a Chromogenic print called "Poolpushers II," which is one of the best works in the show.

Will Boys Be Boys? really irked me, I won't deny it. Like Momin, I'm interested in bad boys, too -- I myself was one of those kids smoking pot behind the school -- but unlike her, I'm not prone to hold them up to ridicule. As I drove away from the museum, I thought of a show that also took up the topic of young men. It was called Horse and was put together five years ago by Ron Judish for his now-long-gone gallery. Horse was perhaps a hundred times better than Will Boys Be Boys?, and that begs the question as to why the MCA has never tapped Judish to be a guest curator. The institution could do worse, as was proved with Momin.

Warts and all, I'm still glad I saw the troubling exhibit. If you haven't seen it, I urge you to do so before it comes down on April 17, a little over a week from now.

One of the most hotly anticipated shows in the coming months is the MCA's 2005 Biennial BLOW OUT: Beyond Comfort, Beyond Representation, which opens on July 8. The show is the third MCA biennial; former director Mark Masuoka established the series in 2001. For the second biennial in 2003, current director Cydney Payton took over. This year it is guest juror Kenny Schachter, who's an independent curator, critic, gallery owner and art consultant based in London.

Schachter had his work cut out for him, because there were more than 750 submissions, from which only ten artists were chosen for inclusion. Because of a change in the eligibility requirements -- previously artists had to reside in Colorado, but this year artists living throughout the Rocky Mountain region could enter -- only six of the ten are from this state. There was no good reason to make this eligibility change -- plus it's been a public-relations disaster -- so I urge the museum to go back to a Colorado-only show for the 2007 version. Many feel that local artists have been largely ignored by the Denver Art Museum, so it would be a real shame if the MCA were to go down the same sorry path.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia